Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Big Norm

New Zealand was in mourning, today in 1974.
Our Prime Minister since late 1972 (and Leader of the Labour Party since 1965), Norman Kirk had died suddenly at the age of 51 - the fifth NZ PM to die in office.
Kirk had faced a number of health issues (including heart problems the previous year) but maintained a punishing work schedule. In mid-August he was hit by flu and soon after was checked into hospital. He died three days later on 31st August 1974, of ‘congestive cardiac failure’ and ‘thromboembolic pulmonary heart disease’.
The public grief that followed his death was reminiscent of the "Lady Di Effect". Historian Michael Bassett described Kirk as someone whose 'commanding presence and extravagant rhetoric introduced a new idealism to political debate'.
Kirk was a beloved public figure and powerful debater. His popularity stemmed from his strong working class background (when building his home after WWII, due to a shortage of funds and materials, Kirk made it entirely himself, right down to casting the bricks). He was against the South African apartheid system and French nuclear tests in the Pacific, and supported spending for housing, employment, health and education.
Kirk was regarded as a champion for ordinary kiwis, at a time when voters saw many other politicians as out-of-touch and aloof. This was demonstrated by the song Big Norm, performed by Wellington band Ebony: it reached No.4 on the national charts in Jan.1974, won a NZ music award for ‘group of the year’ and went gold. You can hear an excerpt from Big Norm here.
The last telegram Kirk ever sent was to congratulate Ebony on their win...and his final public act was to open my high school's new assembly hall. I remember thinking as he walked past me that, with the dark circles under his eyes, he looked very tired and could not possibly be well.
Looking at the depths to which modern politics have sunk, it's almost incomprehensible now that this country was so enthusiastic about a prime minister. Some even muse that NZ might have been better off now, had Norman Kirk still been around. Of course we'll never know but, for many kiwis, 'Big Norm' is still remembered fondly...

1 comment:

maorihunos said...

One of the last and real leaders of our country I was a kid when he died and remember the men on our marae crying and the bell tolling on the radio, since then and looking, I believe the brother was killed for his anti nuclear stance in our pacific'. what a loss of a real man from the ranks of workers'. The man from the nz railways not from corprate money'.I rember and miss real men like him'. cheers NORM'.